Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fencing Fest - The Keys to a Great Fencing Event


Well, for all my non-SCA readers, you will ask "What is Fencing Fest?" for all the ones who know about this event some of this is going to be pretty obvious/dull, but I hope that there will be at least some information useful to all. This blog is about an event that I have been running for a while and some of the keys that have made it a success in those years. I hope that my readership will learn from what is placed here and go on to have their own great events.

First, of all I must say thank you to all who made Fencing Fest VIII (5 -7 August 2011) the success it was. I could not have done it without you. In this I mean my priceless crew and also all of those wonderful people who chose to come along to the event as well. The event would not have been what it was without both of you. Yes, you can expect more praises in other mediums as well. Anyway, on to
the subject at hand.

Before I get on to the nitty-gritty of the event, I need to make something clear. I am not "letting the secrets out" in order to beat my own drum and show how great I am. The hope is that armed with the information presented here others may learn from it and be able to create great fencing events of their own. This can only be of benefit to the fencing community at large.

What is Fencing Fest?
Fencing Fest is an event which I have been running, or at least been involved in some part, now for eight years. It is an event which is primarily focused around the arts of defence as they are taught within the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) and to be more precise within Lochac (which includes Australia and New Zealand). The event itself started as a small local event designed to get fencers together for an event which was focused on fencing rather than any other aspect of the SCA. Over the intervening years the event has grown, dare I say it, to become the primary pure fencing event in Lochac.

Where did the idea come from?
Some years ago I looked about, there were events for every martial endeavour within the SCA, including fencing, it is true, but when it came to events with a focus on one of these arts, this is where it was different. Until Fencing Fest came about there was no event that could be found on the calendar which was totally focused on fencing. There were armoured events and archery events, but nothing for fencers of that kind. This is where the seed was planted.

The origins of Fencing Fest lay in an event which was purely focused on the unarmoured combatants of my local groups, to start with. This would enable the local  fencers to get together and fence and learn what they could without any chance of possible interference from anyone else. This is where the "give people what they want comes in". The event was planned around giving people as much fencing as they could handle in the time-frame allowed for the event. With the foundation stone laid, it was time to move on to the other things that held the event together. It is these things, these keys, which have enabled Fencing Fest to grow to the event that it has become.

Key 1: Fencing
For Fencing Fest it is the fencing that people come along for more than anything else and as such this must be put first on the priorities above everything else. Fencing Fest has ended up being a success because the event has lots of fencing and that is what people come along for primarily. What kind of fencing? Teaching? Competition? Either? Both? This depends on your audience.

The early events had a semi-fluid program that was finalised on the first day of the event in order to give people what they wanted. As the event developed and more and more people started to attend a pattern formed where the first day was primarily teaching oriented and the second was more competition oriented. In this way people get a taste of both through the event and thus most are satisfied with the outcome. The balance between the two options should be determined by the people attending the event and what they want, but the organiser should have some at least rough idea of how it all should be planned out.

Importantly keep the program as fluid as you can so that things starting late do not totally throw out the entire program. There will be delays that you cannot predict and it is important that the program is flexible enough to work with these delays. In a rigid program a delay of a mere half an hour, or even less can cause all sorts of issues. The most important thing with the program is to give the people attending the event what they want above all else, and that is fencing.

Key 2: Costs
Contrary to some thoughts about, the price of the event does not guarantee or determine the quality of the event. Some of the best I have been to have been cheap, and some of the most disappointing have been rather expensive. There are some good reasons to keep an event price low, but the best is the simplest. The lower the price of the event for people coming to it, the more people you will get along to the event. In the end this will actually result in the money being made rather than being lost.

Food is something which will be discussed as one of the keys below. Picking a site is important, it should suit the needs of the event and nothing more. There is no reason to pay for facilities or things which the event will not require. Nor is it sensible to pay for any more area than the event will require to do so with either is a waste of money and will drive your costs and thus the price of the event up. If you keep your costs down, this will keep the price down and thus attract more people to your event. Do research into costs, both of food and sites but also of other events of a similar nature and size.

Key 3: Timing
The timing of your event on the calendar can have a huge effect upon the success of the event as this can determine who will be available to attend your event. In the case of Fencing Fest, it is placed in early August as this is roughly six months from Rowany Festival, the biggest camping event in Lochac which is in Sydney. It is also placed in August as this is the end of winter and it is more likely to be dry in Queensland, Australia at this time of the year. By placing Fencing Fest here I give the maximum time for saving for the event and also cool but dry weather for fencing.

There is little point planning to have an event, two weeks and even a month close to a major event. People often simply do not have the finances to attend multiple events or even the time to do so. If you plan for your event as far away from big events, especially local ones, as possible you are more likely to get people to come along to your event. If you want to look further afield you should also consider when major events of other groups are being held. This is a consideration often overlooked to the detriment to an event. The timing is also linked to advertising, which will be discussed below.

Key 4: Food
If your event is focused on fencing there is no point in having Master Chef quality food, especially if this is going to drive your costs up. The attendees at a fencing event will be more focused on the fencing and thus will simply require the food to be filling. There are three simple things to focus on with regard to an event like Fencing Fest.

First, lots. No one who attends the event should go hungry. This means that there should be food enough to fill the people attending the event. Second, filling. This goes with the first in that the people attending the event will be hungry after fencing and thus will want filling food. The portions of the food should be generous and be of a kind which is filling. Third, simple. Filling rather than pretty. When people are hungry they care a lot less if it is of a period recipe or how much it cost. Thus the three keys to food all link together. Feed the people who attend your event well and they are more likely to come to your next one.  

Key 5: Crew
Being the event organiser you will have enough to do organising the event and you will not be able to do it all yourself. This will mean that you will require a crew or team of people to help you with your event to ensure that it runs smoothly. The calendar is littered with events where and organiser tried to do too much.

In your crew you will need people who know their jobs and know them well. Such people will be able to do what is required of them without your supervision and thus the job that they are doing will be one less per member that you have to worry about. In this particular instance it is even good to have smaller teams within the larger team, but all still must know their jobs and know them well. The other thing that you will need for good crew members are people who you can trust to do their jobs and who you can communicate with. This is important when things are going well, but even more important if things are not going well. Just remember that the communication needs to be two-way communication. Having to chase people for information or to do their job is a waste of your time and energy. A good crew is the best asset an event organiser can have.

Key 6: Advertise
Advertising is something which is often overlooked and also links into the timing aspect. If you plan your event too close, you will not have much time to tell everyone about the event, and the less who know, the less who will attend. The more time that you can give to advertising your event, the more people will know about it, and thus the more people are likely to attend.

There are three things that should be done with regard to advertising for an event. The first is early. As soon as all the details for the event are confirmed the advertising should start. This allows for the maximum amount of time for people to know about the event. It is important that the event needs to be confirmed with all the details for this to work effectively. Half or unconfirmed details do not inspire confidence. The second is regularly. Regular reminders and updates about your event will constantly bring thoughts about your event to the fore. This is even more important if there is additional information available about the event. The third is everywhere. Spread the information about your event to as many places as you can. This is even easier now with e-mail and social networks. E-mail lists are a great boon to advertising events and should be used where appropriate. Be careful about electronic advertising however in order that your information does not get marked as spam. Keep it to the point in order not to irritate people as little as possible.

What has been presented are the keys which I have used to make Fencing Fest into the great event that it is. I hope that you will find some useful information contained within this and will be able to use it in order to make your own events more successful. With all the information which is available about how to run events and also to plan events, the greatest key is to remember that which will suit your event the best. Once you have found this it should be your focus and every other consideration should have this as a background to the final decision made.